Chief Olu Falae, banker, administrator, politician, former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and Finance Minister, speaks with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI on some national issues, including the claims made against him by Chief Bisi Akande in his autobiography, My Participation among others.
Sir, why have you kept mute and ignored former Osun State governor, Chief Bisi Akande, over the claim he made in his autobiography, My Participations that you went to the 2014 National Conference because of the allowance offered by former President Goodluck Jonathan?
I have decided not to say a word about the nonsense which Akande wrote. Akande himself will be surprised for me to comment on what he wrote. I don’t think it is worth my comment. In the first place, my career is an open book. I served Nigeria well with total commitment and integrity. So, I cannot because of allowance do what I will not otherwise do.
For five years, I was Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and Minister of Finance under the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida and I chose not to earn one Naira salary from the government. Rather, before I agreed to leave my banking job to become Secretary to the Government, I told the government to negotiate with my bank to agree to a secondment, that I should be seconded from the bank to government as Secretary to the Government while I would remain Managing Director of the bank and be paid by the bank for my services to the federal government. And at the return of my tenure with the government, I would return to the bank. That was the agreement we reached and that was the agreement we implemented for five years. The letter confirming this is in my possession signed by Alhaji Umaru Mutallab who was the Managing Director of United Bank for Africa at the time. He signed the letter because he was vice chairman of the board of Nigerian Merchant Bank where I was Managing Director. He signed for, and on behalf of the board. He wrote that the bank was happy and privileged to be asked by the Federal Government to second their Managing Director, that is me, Olu Falae to come and be Secretary to the Government, and that I would remain their Managing Director throughout my tenure with the government; the bank would continue to pay me my salary and other entitlements and at the end of my tenure, I would be free to return to the bank. It is written down and I have the letter. I will publish it in my memoirs. That was the situation.
When I got into government about a year or so later, someone from the establishment section came and said they were aware of the arrangement of not paying my salary but I was entitled to what they called Responsibility Allowance. That the job I was holding as Secretary to Government was more complicated, higher and more important than MD of a small Merchant Bank, and that, therefore, I was entitled to what is known in the service as Responsibility Allowance. And I turned it down. He insisted that I was entitled to it, and I said yes, but if I were to take the Responsibility Allowance, it will be described as another salary in future and so, it was.
After I left government, I went into politics. Somebody wrote a petition to the Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba headed by the late General [Adeyinka] Adebayo, that Olu Falae whom they were supporting for president was a thief, that when I was Secretary to the Government I was earning two salaries. Thank God for His guidance. If I had taken the allowance, that fellow would have said that was the evidence. But all he saw was the documents prepared by the bank for paying me my monthly salary. I’m sure he had access to those documents, so he was sure the bank was paying me when I was Secretary to the Government. So, he assumed wrongly that I was being paid also by the government whereas I chose not to earn one extra naira.
If I could turn down Responsibility Allowance to which I was entitled to, to avoid being misunderstood as a second salary, how can I therefore go to a conference because they are going to pay me an allowance? We went to the conference because it was a patriotic thing to do. We have been asking for Sovereign National Conference. I wrote a book, The Way Forward for Nigeria. I don’t think Akande has read it which I launched in Lagos in 2005 and in which I advocated the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference as a means of resolving the Nigerian crises.
So, when a conference was convoked by former President Jonathan, similar to what I have been advocating, should I refuse to go there because they will pay me an allowance? I went because I have been a passionate advocate of a sovereign conference to resolve the Nigerian crises. When an opportunity came, it was my duty and responsibility to go there and contribute my own quota to the remaking of Nigeria. That is why I went there and not because of any allowance. I went to the CONFAB as a nominee of the Federal Government in the category of national elder statesmen. The delegates of Afenifere were chosen by Afenifere at the Yoruba level. I did not got to the conference as a nominee of Afenifere. I was an Afenifere leader, but I was nominated under the category of elder statesmen.
Now, elder statesmen are by definition old people. So, no young person under 50 would qualify for that position. So the position which I occupied was not available to anybody who is not an old man. So by the foregoing, I did not deny any young person any position.
In any case, the like of Akande refused to go to the conference; they are now throwing stones at the conference. If he cares to look at all the delegates from the South-West from whichever category, you will find that there were lots of young people, trade unionists, teachers who were in the conference. Not just Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Olu Falae and Sehinde Arogbofa. There were over 90 delegates from the South-West. The others were from various age categories. As for me, I was not a nominee of Afenifere. I was and I’m an Aferenifere leader but nominated by the federal government among the six national elder statesmen and no young person can be nominated as an elder. So I did not deny any young person any slot at the conference. Let Akande read that.
In any case, Akande should know that some of us by the grace of God didn’t need those allowances. Without stealing public funds, God has given some of us contentment and taken care of us. Talking for myself, I have never begged for food; I have never felt the need to take money that did not belong to me.
I said it when I was campaigning for president and I want to say it now that I have never taken a bribe from anybody at any stage of my career, either when I was in the civil service as a Permanent Secretary or Secretary to the Government or in the bank as Managing Director or as Minister of Finance. Offers were made but the answer was indefinite no because my total upbringing is against that.
Let me tell you a little story. When I was in primary school, Saint Stephen’s, Ijomu, Akure, in the late 40s. One day I was returning home after school and I found a small eraser along Ijomustreet. As a child, I was happy and I picked it. When I got home I told my paternal grandmother who I was living with because my mother was dead. I said mama, I was lucky today, I found this eraser on the ground and she said who asked you to pick it? I said no one and she immediately called me a thief. I said, no mama and she said you stole it because the owner did not give it to you, although, the owner was not there, so nobody transferred the ownership to you. For taking it without the consent of the owner, you stole it. Mama took a whip and followed me back to the very spot where I picked the eraser. I dropped it there and mama took me back home. I can never forget that day. If a pastor today finds $1m along the road, he won’t think it is theft. He will go and pay tithe and thank God for it. But by my grandmother’s standards, the ethical standard, that is theft.
So, the like of Akande can never understand where we are coming from. So, my background, my Christian commitment and the contentment God has given me has enabled me to negotiate my career without taking one Naira that does not belong me. I will not do anything for money if I’m not persuaded it is the right thing to do. So that is that about what Akande said about the National Conference.
What can you think to be the reasons behind Akande’s claim or do you see it as a deliberate attack on you and other Yoruba leaders at this particular period?
Well, only Akande can answer that question. But I just know that Akande is a very reckless person. He will just say anything without thought. Without thinking about the consequences, he will just say it like an irresponsible person. That is how he speaks. That was why I said I was not going to comment about Akande. I don’t want to lower myself to his level.
Chief Akande also said you were being decorated by General Babangida into politics. What’s your view on this?
I don’t know what decorated into politics means. It has no meaning in English. Only Akande can tell you what it means, but I can only speculate. It can mean one of two things. It is either he [Babangida] sponsored me into politics… Now, let us look at that. I will not go into any details but I want to say here and now that the first set if people who invited me and said that I should run for president was a group of three national leaders, namely: the late Papa Adekunle Ajasin; Chief Solomon Lar and General T.Y Danjuma. The three of them invited me to the flat of Dr. Debola Ajasin, Papa Ajasin’s son who was my junior at Igbobi College. The three of them invited me one night to his flat in Lagos University. It was Papa Ajasin who asked me to come. When I got there, I found the two other leaders with him and they said to me, we are leaders of the Progressive Movement; we are trying to form a Progressive Party. They said they have a problem because all of them had been banned from participating in politics and they are looking for a credible presidential candidate and that they would love to ask me that if they formed the party, if it was registered and then invited me to come and be their presidential candidate, would I agree to run? I said well, I have not made up my mind. I said when I was leaving the bank, it was on secondment with the expectation that I would return to the bank at the end of my tenure. That was my plan. But, what they have said, I would think about it. Two of the three men are dead, but thank God, General T.Y Danjuma is still alive. So, if there is any group that invited me to politics, it was that group: Papa Ajasin, Solomon Lar and General Danjuma. Nothing to do with Babaginda at all.
In any case, Akande must have lost his memory by not remembering that it was Babangida who disqualified me from the presidential race and banned me from further participation in the primaries. Is that the act of a sponsor or supporter? Let Akande answer that question.
How will you rate Buhari’s administration in 2021 and your expectations from him in 2022?
All Nigerians have been living under Buhari’s regime. We all know what it has been like; I don’t need to tell you. It has been a very difficult time. Security has never been as bad as this in our entire history. Nigerians have never been this divided. In fact, we should look for another term to describe the near-war situation we are going through. When people were voting for him, the expectation from him as a General, uncompromising man of discipline, was that within months he would finish off Boko Haram and we would all live in peace. But the opposite has been the case and everything else depends on security. You have to be alive and well to know that there is something called education. That you can even eat and wear clothes, you have to be alive and well and that depends on security. Security has been in a complete shambles. If a saint becomes president tomorrow, how is he going to start? Is it with Boko Haram, with bandits or the herdsmen? Where is he going to start from?
I saw on social media that before the Fulani herdsmen left Ekiti area, some boys had understudied them and they have now become graduated kidnappers. So, this is the legacy of this administration. It has been a complete crisis.
People of my age and status cannot live in their homes in any part of the North. Most of them now are hiding in Abuja, including some traditional rulers. It is terrible. I know Buhari would want it to be otherwise, but it is not otherwise. It is the way it is.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our own governor in Ondo State, Arakunrin Akeredolu. In the area of security, he has been fantastic; he is a true son of the land. Soon after he became governor, we had a meeting in this room and the only matter I discussed with him was security. I used my kidnap to illustrate the very serious situation. I didn’t know it was going to get much worse. I pleaded with him to talk to his colleagues in the South-West to do something about the security situation, that security is fundamental to any other thing. I’m not claiming that because of that advice he did what he did. But it is a historical fact that we had that meeting and I made that plea. It is also a historical fact that he played a leading role in the creation of Amotekun. There was a stage some of the governors appeared to be wavering and hesitant, but Akeredolu was firm all the way and because of my appreciation of what he was doing, when the House of Assembly was having a hearing on the Amotekun law, I went there to give them political and moral support and to strengthen their backbone by saying to them that they do not need to go to Abuja to seek permission before they could give Amotekun police powers, because it is inherent in anything called government elected by the people whether at the local level, state level or national level or regional level, any of the organisation elected by the people and called government has an inherent power invested by the votes of the people to make laws that will be valid and to implement them.
In the colonial period and post-independence period, regional government had forestry laws which enabled forestry officer to arrest anybody felling logs illegally and also enable them to prosecute those people either directly by themselves or by sending them to the Ministry of Justice. In other words, contained in that law was evidence that the regional government, the state government has always had the power of arrest through the forestry officers and prosecution through the state Ministry of Justice. So, it is the same state government. Whether you want to use that power now for Amotekun, just create it and pass it. It is already being used from the colonial period. I told them this and I believed that helped to clarify the situation.
Akeredolu was also the first to commission the first batch of trainees. Again, to show my support for his effort I was present at the passing out parade. I don’t usually go to such but to show my special support and then again, when they were going to pass the anti-open grazing law, they sent the draft to me, they passed it. Although, the Miyetti Allah and herdsmen boasted that they will not obey the law that they are Nigerians and Ondo State is part of Nigeria, that they have every right to do what they like, since the law was passed, I have not seen on single cattle or Fulani from here to my farm. I go almost everyday for the past four, five months. They have disappeared. Let them come back and break the law. The enforcement agents will arrest them, take them to court and send them to prison. So all in all, I think Governor Akeredolu has done a very good work. And the security he is enforcing in the state capital right now encourages people to relax during this new year period.
As an elder statesman, what will be your advice to the gladiators preparing to contest one seat or the other in 2023?
My advice is that no election should be conducted until and unless some fundamental amendments are made. I’m not saying that they should do the full restructuring that I have been advocating, but a few fundamental amendments, particularly in the area of security and how elections are conducted and transmitted. My take is that whatever election is conducted, the way things are, if they are allowed to continue till 2023, it cannot be credible. It may not even be possible physically. You remember when they were going to conduct the Anambra governorship election, how many troops and policemen were posted there. Can you send that level of policemen and soldiers to all the 36 states conducting election on the same date? The answer is no.
In any case, is election held under such military situation credible? Is that free? Is that democratic? In my view, no credible election or transparent election can be held the way things are in Nigeria as of today. If you go to Zamfara, people are being kidnapped everyday. About 120 people were slaughtered in Sokoto State. People coming from Abuja to Kaduna are not safe.
Someone told me that no credible election can be conducted in at least 23 states as of today. If the present trend continues, it may be in 30 states. I’m hoping that election will be peaceful in the South-West which has always been the most peaceful part of Nigeria. I don’t know if there are cultural and spiritual reasons for that, but that is the fact. If there is a problem in the North, they come here; problem in the East, they will come here. So, if elections are not possible in 30 states out of 36, what are the gladiators gladiating after?
Are you saying we should not be concerned with power shift for now but for solution to security challenges confronting the country?
We should be concerned about where power should go as an objective whether it should be through election in an unstructured Nigeria. But that is my own perception. It may well happen. God is in charge of its own universe.
I believe that all the changes and restructuring people have been advocating these many years, I have always believe that it will not happen until and unless and except there is a crisis when the question will be where do we go from here. A crisis can come in the next 12 to 15 months if two things happen: one of them is sure to happen, second one is what we don’t know. But if that second one happens, then we will have a crisis that will force us to rethink Nigeria. What are the two things? First, if and when the tenure of the current president comes to an end. We know that it will come to an end; we know the date. It is not a prayer or wish, May 29, 2023 by God’s grace will happen. That is the first condition.
The second condition is that if the second situation as we discussed does not permit the election of a replacement president, then those two facts, old president is gone, a new one cannot be elected, first class crisis, solution to the Nigerian problem. At that point, every section of Nigeria will be free to say there is no more federal government. That is my view. What is the probability of that happening. One of the two conditions will happen. I have not heard that Buhari wants a third term. I hope there is no attempt to impose a third term on us. So, the first condition will happen; it is more likely to happen. The second one is not unlikely it will happen. Then if the two happened together, then that is when restructuring is automatic. If there is no government in Abuja and there is a government in Ondo State, Kano State and other states, that is the government.
Do you see the agitations for self-determination affecting the 2023 elections.
Self-determination is a movement that force cannot stop. In my book again, I addressed it and I gave copies to the federal government but they won’t read it. I said in that book that since the collapse of international communism, the collapse of the Berlin wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, that a new thing has become a dominant force in international relations and that is ethnic self-determination, exemplified, for example in Europe, by the Bosnia Herzegovina war in the very heart of Europe. That area of Europe is called the Balkans. That was the centre point of the holy Roman empire. But in the cause of history, they broke into smaller pieces.
The 19th century was the period to bringing smaller entities to create larger entities in Europe because of the competition for colonialism and access to raw materials in the colonies. That was how Germany evolved under Bismarck. It was Bismarck and others who brought various German principalities together into Germany. It was the age of aggregation. Smaller entities were coming together to be able to compete for colonies and raw materials because industrial revolution was taking place in Europe. But since then, with the collapse of communism, those smaller entities had been agitating for self-identity, especially in the Balkans.
Josip Broz Tito as the President of Yugoslavia, because of superior of statesmanship and love for the people, was able to keep the various entities together. But the moment he died and lesser men took over in Yugoslavia, the agitations started again. Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro people asking for their self determination and then the war started in Bosnia Herzegovina. After 10 years of war and the deaths of thousands of people, Yugoslavia broke into pieces. Seven or eight countries have come out of Yugoslavia alone. Because the leaders of Yugoslavia didn’t have the sense to see that they could not stop self-determination. I called that Resisted Change Model.
There is another model in Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was also created during that period of aggregation, but in this period, the Czechs and the Slovaks wanted to go their different ways. The leaders had the sense to sit around the table and negotiate and they broke into two friendly countries till today. We now have Slovakia and Czech Republic. That is the Managed Change Model. They managed the change. Yugoslavia was Resisted Change Model.
Yet, a third model is the British Model. In the 16th, 17th centuries, England and Scotland had been rivals. But by the time of Queen Mary who was the daughter of Henry the Eighth and was married to the Scottish king, so they had both British and Scottish royal blood and they united the two crowns eventually by the Act of 1707, the Act of what they called Permanent Union between England and Scotland.
Of course, Wales has always been close neighbours of England. So, eventually we have the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. But by the time of Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in England, agitations began especially in Wales and Scotland for self-determination. Harold Wilson organised a referendum in Wales which was passed by a half of one per cent, 50.5 to 49.5 per cent in favour of home rule against the home rule. Today, if you listened to Sky News when they are talking about what Britain is doing about COVID-19, they say the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland and North Ireland. Those were the people who colonised us and we saw them as one monolithic country, United Kingdom under the British crown.
The most unitary of all unitary governments is monarchy because the government finds expression in one single person, the king or a queen. So therefore, it is the most unitary of unitary governments. Today, it is a de facto federation of four nations. Today in Britain, self-determination has lead to the emergence of four nations.
So, in Yugoslavia, in Czechoslovakia, in Britain we can see recent examples of what self-determination has achieved. And it continues in other places including in Nigeria. So it is for us to make a choice now. Do we choose the system of resisted change which is what we have been doing, where we have been saying it is Igboho, it is Kanu, we won’t change? Let us see where that is going to lead us. We must learn from history, otherwise we will make the mistake of history. Do we take the Resisted Change Model or do we go to Czechoslovakia and take the Managed Change Model or the Managed Change Model of Britain? Managed change has A and B. A is Czechoslovakia that resulted in two different countries or B, Britain, they are still together but emerging as different nations. It is up to us. I don’t want to be too academic, but these are facts, contemporary facts. You cannot stop it. If you want true self-determination from Britain, why do you think you can prevent 448 ethnic nationalities from rearranging this country in a way that will be acceptable? No way.
President Muhammadu Buhari has less than two years to the completion of his tenure. Do you think he can still turn things around?
With God, all things are possible. If God decides to take over President Buhari and his administration and use him and the others to revive and revamp Nigeria, God can still do so. Nothing is impossible.
As a former Minister of Finance and an economist, what is your take on the economy of the country?
All the wrong things are being done at the same time. I don’t know why. One of the causes of inflation, is not just the devaluation of the naira which is very serious, but it is the pumping of money by the Central Bank into private people. They are lending money to farmers, traders. Those are not Central Bank functions. They have taken over commercial banking, pumping money which they can never recover because their staff are not trained to lend to people and to recover and manage the credit.
You just don’t hand loans, cash to people. They bring a proposal, you look at it. Commercial banks are trained to look at it and see whether it is viable or not. We are trained; we have the experience; we have the dedication. And after lending the money, there are things you do to manage that thing. The Central Bank hasn’t got one person trained to do this and they are handing out billions of naira. It is disaster. They were saying the money they have given to farmers, they can’t get the money back. While should they return the money? They know you don’t have the capacity to get it back. They will be daft to pay back.
Meanwhile, herdsmen say you must not farm again. The rice that you borrow money to plant, cows eat and destroy it. Then how can the farmer pay back? So, these are the raw materials for the economic meltdown that we are trying to create. Then we have been borrowing and borrowing. Borrowing must be used to create an asset. Project borrowing, project finance fine. But borrowing to finance consumption is dangerous.